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A Very Victorian Christmas

A Very Victorian Christmas

When Arthur Shaw founded our company in 1897 the Victorian era was drawing to a close and Christmas was very different to the much-loved month-long festivities of today.


In fact, only 60 years earlier at the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign in 1837, Christmas was barely celebrated at all, with many businesses even refusing to recognise it as a holiday.

On 19 December 1843 everything changed when Charles Dickens' book A Christmas Carol was published for the first time. The first edition of the now classic story was completely sold out by Christmas Eve; and by the end of 1844 a further thirteen editions would be released.

Dickens’ transformational tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge captured the imagination of the British public during a period when they themselves were exploring and re-evaluating Christmas traditions, including carols, Christmas cards and Christmas trees. Dickens’ wholesome themes of family, peace and goodwill encapsulated the spirit of Christmas and by the end of the Victorian Period in 1901 Christmas had quickly become the popular annual celebration we recognise today.

We at Shaws love a traditional Christmas that’s very much at the heart of any busy kitchen on Christmas Day - our Ribchester sink is designed for this purpose as the iconic double bowl sink, with a central dividing wall, makes hosting around Christmas time easy. Our products are also made using the same traditional techniques that we developed in the Victorian era in the same factory, in the north-west of England from 1897. With this in mind, we wanted to explore and share some of the great Victorian traditions that have made the festivities feel so special to us over the last 125 years.

Photography Credit: @simplyscandikatie

The Victorian Christmas Tree.

In 1848 the Illustrated London News published an illustration of the royal family celebrating around a decorated fir tree, a tradition that was reminiscent of Prince Albert's German childhood. This royal influence soon meant that every home in the land adopted the tree as a symbol of festive period. Victorian Christmas trees were often fir and adorned with natural decorations including bundles of cinnamon sticks, garlands of dried citrus fruits, and pine cones, creating a fabulous festive aroma of fruit and spices. Other handmade ornaments and small gifts would be added to create an even more luxurious look. The hazardous open-flame candles used to illuminate trees, began to be replaced with much safer electric lights after they were invented by Edward Johnson, a colleague of Thomas Edison in 1882.

The first glass ornaments in the shape of fruit also originated in Germany in 1847. They were made by Hans Greiner of Lauscha using a unique hand-blown process. At Shaws we love to celebrate this type of artistry. Our own Master Craftsmen hand-finish every single sink, using methods unchanged in nearly 125 years. One of the finest examples of this is our Longridge sink. But being true to our craft, we think the 2021 Porcelain Christmas Bauble by Wedgewood would add a bit of Victorian Luxury to any tree.

Photography Credit: @kate.johnsonwf

The Christmas Card

The Victorian era also saw the introduction of the first card for Christmas. Commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843 the card featured an illustration depicting a group of people around the dinner table and a festive message. Although expensive at the time, the concept became popular and led to many industrious children, Queen Victoria’s included, making their own cards by hand. By 1880 the sending of cards had become a lucrative industry that produced 11.5 million cards a year. Try these Victorian ornament Christmas cards by Smythson of Bond Street for a traditional way to spread some yule-tide joy.

Photography Credit: @whyte_and_wood

Traditional Victorian Crackers

When British confectioner, Tom Smith, invented a clever new way to sell sweets in 1848, another commercial Christmas industry was born. Inspired by the paper wrapped bon bons he had seen on a recent trip to Paris, Tom came up with the idea of a simple package filled with sweets that snapped when pulled apart. Gradually the sweets were replaced by small gifts and paper hats, and by the late Victorian period the cracker as we know it today became the standard. To add a touch of Victorian humour to your festivities, try these wonderful portrait crackers from Rockett St George.

Photography: @classystyleofmine

The Christmas Spirit

Victorian festivities and merriment would usually be fuelled by a boozy punch. Various concoctions made with sugar, boiling water, various spices and fruit juice, and spiked with a good glug of gin or rum. We prefer this Victorian-inspired Charles Dickens’s Punch by drinks historian and author David Wondrich that will have you away in your manger by half-past eight if you sink too many (pun intended, sorry). A great tipple tip for your Shaws sink is to fill it with ice, then place all your wine or even better champagne in there- our large, single bowl Entwistle sink is the perfect pairing for this type of hosting. It’s the perfectly Victorian way to chill a lot of bottles at once, ready for your family feast. It also frees up precious space in your refrigerator for more festive food delights.

Whatever you have planned for the festive season this year, may it be wondrous, merry and bright, and let us remember the greatest gift one can hope for this year is to spend time with the ones we love.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all.


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